CONCORD, N.H. (Jan. 9, 2018) – Just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed for a new federal crackdown on marijuana, the New Hampshire defied those plans by passing a marijuana legalization bill by a vote of 207 to 139.
Under the bill, which is expected to soon move to the state Senate, people over 21 years of age would be allowed to legally possess three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and grow up to three mature cannabis plants at home. Retail sales locations would not be allowed.
The noncommercial approach is similar to a bill advancing in neighboring Vermont. There, the House passed a legalization measure on Thursday — the same day U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his new approach on federal prohibition. Vermont’s Senate, which previously passed similar legislation, is expected to give its final approval on Wednesday, and Gov. Phil Scott has pledged to sign legalization into law.
House Bill 656 (HB656) was introduced by a coalition of two Republican and two Libertarian state representatives last January. In February, the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety decided not to move forward with the bill, instead sending it to further committee meetings and study over the summer.
Then, in November, the same committee finally took up a vote on the bill and the majority recommended that the full House vote it down. The committee’s minority recommended a floor amendment to scale the proposal back to only legalize possession and home cultivation instead of full regulation and legalization like in states such as Colorado and California.
While bills do sometimes pass the full chamber over the recommendation of a committee to kill a bill, it’s not a regular practice. Today’s vote on overturning the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill was 183 to 162. The House then amended the proposal to remove the commercialization provisions via a voice vote. Passage of the final legislation was approved by a tally of 207 to 139.
While supporters expected the bill to move directly to the Senate after the House vote, leadership unexpectedly re-referred the bill to committee and sent it over to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it will need to pass before moving to the Senate.
That chamber is likely to prove an even tougher obstacle, as it doesn’t often move legislation that the Governor has expressly opposed. According to Paul Steinhauser of NH1 News, the Governor today said he’s not in support of the bill.
BRAND NEW: @GovChrisSununu tells me and @wkxlnhchris he WON’T support #HB656 – which would legalize recreational use of marijuana & passed a key first test today in @NHHouseofReps #nhpolitics #marijuana pic.twitter.com/vpzleggSQq
— Paul Steinhauser (@steinhauserNH1) January 9, 2018
Call Governor Sununu’s office RIGHT NOW 603.271.2121 and POLITELY lodge your frustration about this! If he hears this today, perhaps he will reverse course.
I just did, saying: “Hi [My Name/Town] and I just saw on Twitter than Gov Sununu said he will not support common sense MJ reform in NH, the bill HB 656. I’m a Republican voter and I want to express my frustration at his position, and lodge a formal complaint.” The guy I spoke to was nice, and took contact details, incl mailing address and phone #. (Mentioning that so you can be prepared or say, I’d rather not share that information.) Please call!
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Legalization of marijuana in New Hampshire would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, New Hampshire could sweep away much of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take up to 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
New Hampshire could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed last year.
With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.